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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: The Return of 'Ticket Masters' in Anaheim

The coronavirus pandemic hushed Anaheim's trio of big entertainment venues last year. Disneyland became a ghost town. The Angels played a shortened, forgettable season before empty stands in the stadium. The Ducks, poised to miss the playoffs, never returned to the Honda Center after the NHL cancelled all remaining regular season games.

But with confirmed cases finally trending down and vaccines getting in more and more arms this year, Anaheim is roaring back.

Fans have returned to Angel Stadium to root for the hapless Halos and the Honda Center welcomed back limited-capacity crowds to cheer on the dead-last Ducks while its concert calendar fills up with future shows slated for later this year.

Quietly in the stands, a dormant political patronage system resumed with Anaheim city council members able to dole out free tickets to their well-connected friends and political backers again. In 2019, I filed an exhaustive "Ticket Masters" special report for OC Weekly that revealed Anaheim's free ticket system to be lacking transparency, in violation of its own policies and riddled with dubious reporting.

For example, within a year's time, Ernesto Medrano, a business representative of LA/OC Building & Construction Trades Council, received 36 free tickets from supportive councilmembers worth nearly $7,000 for volunteerism. In another case, Disney-backed councilmembers Kris Murray and Jordan Brandman gave free Angels tickets to the husband of a Disneyland political lobbyist for the same stated "public purpose."

(Actually, under the guidelines, people don't really have to volunteer their time for anything in Anaheim; tickets can be handed out as an incentive in the hopes that maybe one day they'll do so).

"A Touch of Disney" revived Anaheim's ticket disclosure forms from their pandemic slumber this March with Mayor Harry Sidhu and councilmembers Steve Faessel and Trevor O'Neil performing legitimate civic duties by attending the event.

But the Angels home opener against the Chicago White Sox in April is when the free tickets start to flow from councilmembers themselves.

Two Democrats behind the dais--Avelino Valencia and Jordan Brandman--are the most prolific peddlers, so far. Valencia, overwhelmingly elected to represent District 4 with broad support from business interests and labor unions, handed out 22 tickets alone last month to various union allies, campaign contributors and party backers. He rewarded Medrano's volunteerism, which at this point must be the stuff of legend, with a pair of tickets worth $205 a piece to watch the Angels from the comforts of the city's suite.

Medrano's Building & Construction Trades Council backed Valencia's electoral bid with an endorsement and a max contribution. So did the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 652, which also made a max contribution of $2,100 to his campaign. It's not surprising, then, to see that union's Secretary-Treasurer Robert Ruiz getting free baseball tickets from Valencia (when he wasn't also receiving them from Brandman!).

Ajay Mohan, the young executive director of OC Democrats, also has Valencia to thank for taking him out to the ball game. Curiously, Santa Ana councilman Johnathan Hernandez, a Democrat, benefited from tickets handed out by Valencia for volunteering; there's a separate "public purpose" of "intergovernmental relations" for that.

In fact, all tickets given out by Brandman, Valencia and Faessel have cited the volunteer "public purpose" exclusively. It's the easiest write-off of the bunch. Hell, Anaheim Independent blogger Matt Cunningham once got free concert tickets for supposedly volunteering during a Taste of Anaheim event run by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

As for Brandman, he's handed out Angels tickets to union backers like Anthony Novello, the business manager for UA Local 582 Plumbers & Steamfitters, and Jim Ramirez, the Vice President of the Anaheim Firefighters Association. It's not just building trades and public unions. Brandman also hooked up free tickets for Dave Sorem, a manager and partner at Mike Bubalo Construction Company (more on that later!).

In the pandemic's omni-crisis, numerous Anaheimers stepped up to volunteer their time--whether placing a box of groceries in the backseat of a car during a drive-up food bank or helping administer a vaccine clinic--but if they're not well-connected, Anaheim's ticket system ain't for them.

Other cities in California, like San Diego and Sacramento, have stricter ticket policies than Anaheim. Santa Clara declines tickets from Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, altogether.

It's still early, but councilmen Jose F. Moreno, Jose Diaz and Trevor O'Neil haven't started handing out tickets anew just yet. Neither has Mayor Sidhu. From that bunch, Moreno's the sole Democrat so the patronage system will invariably balance out from its Dem, union-heavy head start.

Give it time. As Orange County is in the Yellow Tier and poised to scrap capacity limits this summer, expect those free tickets to start making a comeback as if roused by the rally monkey.

- Gabriel San Román

This independent newsletter in OC depends on readers like YOU! To keep the Slingshot! flinging the truth Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2. PayPal: @gabrielsanroman2

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Tito smash Juicy Juice! / YouTube Screenshot

Council Bro Chronicles

Editor's note: The Slingshot is happy to welcome "Councilbro Chronicles" as a new feature! Its focus is on one Mayor Bro Tem in Huntington Beach named Tito Ortiz and all his bumbling misdeeds. The contributor remains anonymous. Take it away, whoever you are!

Our parents have embarrassed most of us at some point in our lives, maybe in front of a stranger or an acquaintance. Amplify that discomfort by millions of people and I imagine that’s how Mayor Bro Tem Tito Ortiz’s children might be feeling right about now.

It all began when a brigade of anti-mask, anti-vaxx activists descended upon the Orange County Department of Education on May 17 for a “Let the Kids Breathe” protest and brought their kids along for the ride.

But the OC Board of Education, who didn’t meet that day, already made fools of themselves on the question of masks and vaccines, so who were the protesters trying to convince? Despite that, forum dwellers from the online cesspool known as “Informed” Parents of California braved some morning drizzle to take photos of their brainwashed children for the ‘Gram.

The group’s roster of speakers included a Blexit Director, a Medical Feild Insider [sic], and our very own councilbro, who used his official city title on the flyer for the event. Beneath a canopy, Ortiz spoke about the “dangers”' of masks in schools (obviously nonsense), and addressed the many controversies of his tenure on the council. He told the small crowd he had experienced “hit piece after hit piece” in the media on account of being a truth-telling councilbro.

(His speech was removed for medical misinformation by both Google and YouTube when I tried to share it).

A number of elementary school children gave well-rehearsed speeches about how much they hate masks. (Quick aside: I recall giving similarly impassioned speeches in protest of brussels sprouts when I was their age). Though most of the “Informed” Parents brought their kids, Ortiz’s twins didn’t appear to be in attendance. There are several candid photos of Ortiz and his girlfriend Amber Nichole Miller at the protest but none with his children present.

Sending his kiddos to school on Monday morning rather than using them for a political gimmick is responsible parenting.

Only, it didn’t last. The very next morning, Ortiz and Miller took the boys to school with a couple of Peggy Hall’s $18 “religious exemption” cards instead of masks. They were sent home and will enroll in the Ocean View School District’s virtual academy for the remainder of the school year. Miller shared what happened on social media, footage that appeared on several news channels that covered the controversy that night.

Four weeks of online learning likely won’t have a huge impact on these kids-- but we don’t know what will happen when they start applying for colleges or jobs later on in life, especially with archival footage of their blurred out faces leaving school for not wearing masks during a pandemic.

Ortiz spends a fair portion of his stump speech talking about the importance of making the world safer for his children’s future, the same futures he jeopardizes every time he drags them into the ring of his political circus. Who is he really doing this for?

Besides, it’s not like this latest mask controversy made everyone forget about Ortiz's unemployment insurance scandal!

Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

If you have more than one Mexi friend on social media, chances are you've seen the alluring cheese pull of a quesabirria taco or its dip into consomé come across your timeline, inducing salivation at first sight. Birria tacos, in every form, are all the rage now even though the stewed meat, traditionally goat, kept Mexis fed for decades at every special occasion.

Quesabirria tacos, with the help of social media savvy, are especially a bona fide food trend. They helped transform La Super Birria in SanTana from a dulceria into a nom nom nightclub! And those tacos help keep the benches full at Birrieria Guadalajara in Anacrime.

It's no surprise, then, that Tijuana-style quesabirria tacos finally found their way into the Disneyland Resort just a few miles away.

With Latinos comprising half of all parkgoers pre-pandemic, the Mouse would be pendejo not to Mexify its menus beyond classic churros, especially at Disney's California Adventure. With that, quesabirria tacos are now available to grub on at DCA's Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill--alongside tacos de papa!

The red-tinged, crispy, cheesy beef birria tacos with a side of consomé aren't the talk of the town just yet. But they're slowly starting to appear in vlogs, tweets, Instagram posts and podcast banter. Reviews are brief, but celebratory.

Judging by the pictures, the plate looks classic Disney. The pair of tacos are small and far from mightily stuffed. The consomé companion is tiny compared to the Styrofoam cups found elsewhere. And the price tag is heftier than the meal, clocking in at $11.49.

But Disney can ill-afford to dish out weak salsa Mexi meals. There's too many Mouse-eared Mexis roaming around the parks for that. If the quesabirria craze fails to take off at California Adventure, we'll all know why!

Lead photo: Angel Stadium before the pandemic / Photo by CrispyCream27 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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